For those who are concerned that this is a post about how we regret downsizing to a 536 sq ft house, fear not–we still LOVE our small house!
Have you lived in different areas of the country? of your state? of a particular county?
Perhaps you are someone who has owned several homes in different areas, so you are familiar with having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of varying locales.
Since it’s been several years since we moved, we had grown accustomed to the way in which the old municipality handled its affairs. Moving to a different zip code required a new way of thinking about the services a municipality offers its residents. And building a new house in a new municipality brought with it an additional set of
challenges learning experiences.
Establishing Water & Sewer Services
With the big house, we had public water and sewer, both of which had been in place since the house was constructed in the 80s. Public water and sewer services were administered by the same non-profit organization within the borough. Every month, we paid this organization between $80 and $90 for water and sewer; of all of the municipalities in Lancaster County, we had the highest rates for water and sewer services, despite having low-quality water, which necessitates the use of a water filtration system. However, when we moved in, we didn’t have to worry about setting up new services–the municipality ensured the transfer of services to us upon purchase of the house several years ago.
Putting the small house on a vacant lot that had been vacant for a number of years meant that we had to establish services for the new house. Though our contractor handled the connection of our house to the water and sewer laterals, we had to pay a connection fee, buy a water meter, complete some paperwork, and establish accounts for our water and sewer services.
In this municipality, there is one company for water and another company for sewer; as a result, we had twice as much to do to ensure that our services were set up appropriately. However, our rates are significantly lower and the quality of water is an improvement.
Establishing the Collection of Trash & Recycling Service
In the old municipality, the borough arranged for the same trash hauler to service all homes. With the same trash hauler for everyone, we had the same rate as everyone else, no matter how much trash we actually produced; for this service, we paid $250 per year, payable to the borough office.
In the new municipality, we have to choose our own trash hauler, which was a surprise. Fortunately, the municipality vetted several trash haulers and supplies residents with a list of these “approved” companies. With significant competition and rates based on the amount of trash a household produces, we were able to take advantage of a one trash bag per week plan (unlimited recycling included) for $160 per year with a private trash hauler of our choosing.
Establishing Electric Service
Buying an existing house that has electric service was much like the establishment of water and sewer–the electric company made changing the name on the account super easy. Done. Bills continue to show up like nothing happened.
Fortunately, the electric company we used at the big house is the same provider for the small house. Garrett’s call to the electric company identified the need to complete a form requesting new service installation at some date in the future, which we were told would be at least three weeks later. Wow! I jumped online immediately, completed the form in late July (because that’s what you do on a Friday night, right?), and we had electric service before the end of August.
Establishing Internet Service
In the old municipality, the borough had an arrangement with one cable TV/Internet service provider, so there was no opportunity to shop around. Everyone in the borough had the same company (and the same high rates). With a cable TV and Internet bill topping $150 in 2010, we cut the cord and coincidentally, cut our bill by more than half to $67 per month. (Some of the uber-frugal might cut their ISP, but having digital marketing as a side hustle requires a near-constant connection to the Internet.) Every year, we would request the borough free us from the shackles of this singular relationship, but they would not.
In the new municipality, we had the choice of a few Internet service providers, so we considered reviews and customer service complaints as well as rates before we finally settled with Xfinity. Now, I’m sure that many of you out there aren’t fans of Comcast, but thus far, we don’t have any complaints. Our plan is $55 per month for 25 mpbs, a savings of about $22 per month.
When I called to establish service, I was able to arrange for the physical installation of “new new” service, set up a plan, and set up an online account in the same call. The installation guy showed up on time in the two-hour window provided; he completed his work in about 45 minutes. And the best part? I was able to set up automated billing using our Amazon rewards credit card.
Paying Property & School Taxes Without an Escrow Account
For the big house, taxes were paid out of the escrow account. (We know, we know. We learned our lesson about down payments and PMI.) We didn’t have to think about having to write checks for the $3k in taxes that were due each year because the mortgage company made these disappear. Magic!
However, when you actually own something like a house or land (no loan involved), you have to pay taxes! Duh, right?
At the time of purchase of the vacant lot, we had to pay the balance of the 2014-15 school year’s tax bill as well as the remainder of the calendar year tax bill (total was about $800). I didn’t question this–I just wrote the check and we were done.
It took about two months for us to obtain the property’s deed. Seemingly five minutes after the deed for the vacant lot was officially transferred to us (a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much), our school tax bill arrived for the 2015-16 school year.
Wait, what? We just paid taxes, so why we do have to pay this again? We have to do this EVERY YEAR?!
Having to write physical checks for taxes meant we had to further revise our budget and include a line item to save for property and school taxes, an item we will revisit once more when our newly improved lot has been reappraised.
If you’ve thought about building a small house of your own, be prepared to extend your timeline and pay “hidden” expenses (hidden is a bad word, but it is a little better than “expenses that are largely unknown to you at the outset of the project). 🙂
Other than that, we recommend maintaining a positive attitude–the minor headaches of building a house are temporary. We hope your small house will be just as amazing as ours!
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